Getting the Right Word Out to Reporters

How to communicate your key messages in press interviews

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By Kim T. Gordon

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Q: After months of sending out press releases, we finally got two responses. One journalist interviewed me for a trade magazine article, and another call was from a producer who lined up a brief interview on a radio show. Although both interviews helped get our company name out, I don't think either one really communicated what's unique about our business. What did I do wrong?

A: Whether you've been pursuing press coverage for months or a journalist calls you out of the blue, there's one surefire way to ensure your core messages don't get lost. What you need is a public relations platform that's in tune with your company's central themes. An important component of any effective marketing program, this platform should relate to the messages you convey through all other marketing channels. And you need to prepare it well in advance of any public relations activities.

Create your platform. To align your PR platform with your company's central themes, review the principal messages carried in your advertising and sales materials, on your Web site and in any product catalogs. Then write a PR platform that ties in with or even expands on these themes.

For example, imagine your company sells rugged outdoor gear for mountain biking, and your products are set apart by their durability and the way they stand up to tough use in all kinds of weather. That's one of your key messages. Now let's say you've sent a special press kit with safety tips for mountain biking to select media. When preparing for interviews, you'd create a public relations platform that includes an important tip that illustrates why it's essential to have ruggedly dependable equipment. Get the picture?

A solid public relations platform should be no more than one long paragraph and include three central points--these are the themes you must cover no matter what you're asked. Write and polish your platform carefully. Then rehearse and memorize it, but don't read directly from it during an interview. It's vital to keep your answers sounding spontaneous, so it's important never to read from a canned script.

Ace the interview. An interview is only valuable to the media if its content is of special interest to their readers, viewers or listeners. An effective public relations platform meets a media outlet's needs with information that's new or noteworthy, controversial or entertaining, and also weaves in your company's unique messages. So let's say you own that outdoor gear company and an interviewer asks how long you've personally been involved in the sport of mountain biking. You'd reply by saying, "I started mountain biking about 10 years ago and learned early on the importance of equipment that could stand up to that rugged environment when..." then lead into an anecdote illustrating how your company has become expert in ruggedly dependable gear.

No matter what you're asked, it's always possible to bring an interviewer back to your central messages--just be sure to do so in a way that's relevant to the needs of the journalist and his or her audience. This is crucial, since very few interviews are "live." The majority of broadcast interviews are prerecorded and edited, and print journalists can use the information you provide in whatever way suits them. So to minimize the chances of your key messages getting buried or simply edited out, it's essential to relate the bulk of your answers to the three points in your platform.

And here's a final tip: Keep your answers concise. Short and interesting comments are more likely to be used in their entirety, which guarantees your message won't be garbled or lost.

Kim T. Gordon
Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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